President Obama may pledge to finally close Guantanamo’s doors, but all his words are just an illusion, while prisoners are suffering at the notorious detention facility.
Human rights lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees has been talking to RT.
RT: President Obama has made numerous promises over the years to close Guantanamo Bay prison. Is it likely to happen?
David Remes: I don’t see how it can happen under the current circumstances. For one thing, President Obama keeps blaming Congress for preventing him from transferring detainees. As long as he puts responsibility on Congress, it’s unlikely that he will make major moves. In addition, he’s set up this new system for releasing Yemenis, whereby they have to go through another review process, which is likely to take a long time if it happens at all. So I think what he said sounded good, as usual, but, once again, it only provides the illusion of movement. The men face a very bleak circumstance in Guantanamo in terms of being transferred.
RT: Has the hunger strike involving over a hundred detainees influenced the pledge to close the facility?
DR: I haven’t talked to anyone yet, I’m going to speak to a couple of them tomorrow afternoon. But I imagine, based on what we’ve discussed in the past, that this was all a big snooze to them. Obama has no credibility down there. The men even say that they prefer Bush because he released detainees. I think this will be disregarded or just snorted at with cynicism.
RT: Some inmates from Yemen have already been cleared for release – but what about those from other countries?
DR: There are about thirty other detainees, from other countries, who have been approved for transfer. About half of them can be sent home to their own countries, but about half have to be re-settled in third countries because of concerns about torture in their own countries. Ambassador Dan Fried who has been appointed to place the detainees was on the verge to transfer these men when Congress stepped in, and that’s basically why his office was closed. They are the most promising candidates for transfer, but I don’t really think it’s going to happen very soon.
RT: In the event of Guantanamo actually closing, is it likely Washington will use other secret detention centers?
DR: If they are secret, we don’t know about them. I’m not trying to be flip about it. I also don’t think that the US is using secret centers – although obviously, if they are secret, I don’t know for sure. I think they may be handing men over to countries of origin or we may be just drowning these people instead of imprisoning them.
Guantanamo (Joshua Nistas/US Army)
President Barack Obama’s address yesterday on U.S. terror strategies got a lot of attention for supposedly charting a new course in America’s longest war. But some of the facts were mangled along the way.
On CBS Evening News (5/23/13), reporter Major Garrett stated that
Obama urged Congress to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. To that end, he will seek permission to send 86 of the 166 jailed terror suspects already cleared for release to other countries.
Those 86 prisoners have not been, and will not be, charged with any crime whatsoever; they are not “terror suspects.” Garrett’s statement was all the more awkward considering that it came right before CBS played a clip of Obama saying this:
Imagine a future, 10 years from now, or 20 years from now–when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country.
To refer to “people who have been charged with no crime” as “terror suspects” is simply Orwellian. Garrett went on to say:
An intelligence report in January, Scott, found that fewer than 5 percent of those detainees released since 2009 have rejoined the fight.
That is indeed the language used in the government’s accounting of former Guantanamo detainees–and the definition of “re-enagaging” has been narrowed considerably since the Bush years. Reporters have taken some of this Pentagon propaganda on this issue at face value in the past, which should be all the more reason to continue to be skeptical. If someone has been imprisoned without charge or trial for a number of years, can one plausibly claim that they have “returned” to committing crimes that they were never charged with in the first place?
Mr. Obama said he was lifting a moratorium he imposed on sending detainees to Yemen, where a new president has inspired more faith in the White House that he would not allow recidivism.
Again, these are prisoners cleared for release because they cannot be charged with any crimes. It is bizarre to seriously discuss the threat that they might go back to committing crimes there’s no apparent evidence that they’ve ever taken part in.
Each inmate at the US’ notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, dubbed as the most expensive jail on Earth, costs Washington some $900,000 annually, a report says.
According to the Pentagon’s estimate, it spends around $150 million every year to run the prison and military court system at the US Naval Base in Cuba, Reuters said in a report on Friday.
With 166 prisoners who are currently in custody in Guantanamo Bay prison, the report adds, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 for each inmate.
Meanwhile, analysts say super-maximum security prisons in the US spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to keep their inmates.
The cost argument comes at a time when the severe budget-cutting process known as ‘sequestration’ is slated to slash some $109 billion in US spending up to the end of September 2013. It has also cut government services small and large.
“It’s extremely inefficient,” said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. He has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay prison since 2005.
“That … may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States,” Gude added.
He further said although it is difficult to say how much the US has spent overall on the infamous prison, “it is certainly more than $1 billion by a comfortable margin, I would say, probably more than $2 billion.”
Most of the 166 detainees being held at the jail have been cleared for release or were never charged – a situation that has attracted outcry from certain countries and human rights organizations.
Detainees began the hunger strike in February to protest against prison conditions and the detainees’ indefinite confinement. The strike has led to the force-feeding of nearly two dozen of the captives via tubes snaked up their nose and into their stomach.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged the US President Barack Obama’s administration to mend the situation in Guantanamo that has compelled prisoners to starve themselves, saying that the act of force-feeding is akin to torture.
US President Barack Obama today condemned the Guantanamo Bay prison camp run by US President Barack Obama, channeling the moral outrage last heard on the 2008 campaign trail.
“The idea that we would still detain forever a group of individuals that have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, that is contrary to our interests and it has to stop,” the president said during a press conference at the White House.
The rhetoric was bold and progressive. The reality? At least half of 166 never-tried, never-convicted prisoners that reside at Guantanamo Bay are engaged in a hunger strike that is making the president look bad. And so the man with a kill list who is ultimately responsible for them being there – and who’s initial plan for closing the prison was simply moving it to Illinois – had to act as if he was deeply troubled by his poor human rights record, like an oil executive shedding tears for Mother Earth after a big spill.
What Obama is banking on is the fact that most people (including his base) aren’t terribly detail oriented. The tale liberal Democrats tell themselves, and which the liberal media tells the rest of us, is that the fight over Guantanamo Bay is Obama and a bunch of ACLU lawyers on one side, the forces of fear-mongering, reactionary insanity on the other. The president, it is to be understood, is facing irrational hostility from the Chicken Littles of the right and would like to the do the right thing — of course he would — but, you know: Republicans.
That narrative, unfortunately, is false. The true story, obfuscated by the president’s occasional condemnations of his own human rights record, is that Obama himself signed an executive order creating “a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.” Rather than repudiate the notion of “detain[ing] forever a group of individuals that have not been tried,” Obama (through a task force he commissioned) determined that 48 of the prison camp’s detainees were “too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution.” The evidence against those men would not be admissible even by the weakened standards of a military court – that is, it was probably gained through torture – but rather than release them, as if they were persons endowed with certain inalienable rights, the Obama administration would prefer to lock them away until they die.
The president has even refused to release dozens of Yemeni citizens who have been cleared of all wrongdoing. Obama also signed (and his lawyers later defended in court) a bill that allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens. And let’s not forget that kill list, which is based on the idea that it’s alright for the president to act as judge, jury and executioner, so long as the unilateral justice is being delivered abroad. So when the president of the United States righteously condemns the idea of imprisoning someone forever without charge or trial, it’s important to remember the truth about his record. It’s important to remember he is lying.
Washington’s failure to close Guantanamo and release indefinitely held detainees is a “clear breach of international law,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement on Friday, as the “desperate” hunger strike nears two months.
Calling the ongoing Guantanamo Bay prison hunger strike a “desperate,” but “scarcely surprising” act, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her “deep disappointment” of the US government’s inability to keep to its four-year-old pledge to shut down the controversial prison.
“We must be clear about this, the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold,” Pillay said in a statement.
She condemned “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees,” saying it “amounts to arbitrary detention,” and thus violates international law.
Pillay also said it undermines the US’ stance of a human rights “upholder,” and reminded that when other countries breach human rights standards, the US is the first to strongly criticize them for it.
According to Pillay, about half of the 166 Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for transfer either to home countries or third countries for resettlement, but haven’t been released. The other half may be doomed to keep “festering” in detention for an indefinite period of time, she added.
Of the 166 detainees, which come from 23 different countries, only nine have been charged or convicted of crimes.
According to official reports, some forty inmates have joined the current hunger strike in protest against their indefinite detention, which has already been going on for 59 days. The prisoners claim the number of those taking part is close to 130.
Some of the hunger strike participants are being force fed with liquid nutrients by means of tubes inserted through their noses into their stomachs, to counteract alarming weight loss.
The US military has started the forced feeding- a process the UN has compared to torture- despite opposition from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitoring the prisoners’ condition. Military officials have also denied mistreating the prisoners, or breaking internationally recognized laws, saying that an “alternate narrative simply do not withstand intellectual rigor” as cited by Reuters.
President Obama “has not taken the necessary steps… when he had the power to” in connection with the release of Guantanamo detainees and prison closure, and is not using his “full powers” now that the process is blocked by a number of factors, Jonathon Hafetz, professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law told RT.
“You have the military continuing to press for holding detainees and use military commissions, rather than regular courts. Particularly, you have Congress, which has placed very onerous restrictions on transferring detainees to other countries, including detainees who the White House has cleared for transfer,” Hafetz said, speaking of the obstacles in the way of the infamous prison abolition.
There’s no doubt that international law is being broken in a number of respects in Guantanamo, Hafetz added.
The US has been violating international law by the “indefinite detention of individuals who don’t pose the risk of a threat,” and the prosecution in military tribunals have charged for offenses like “material support for terrorism or conspiracy,” which are not recognized as war crimes under international law, the lawyer said.
“The absence of accountability for the torture and the other abuses that occurred at Guantanamo is another violation of international law – the state has a duty to investigate and prosecute offences, and the US has not done that,” Hafetz added.
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hundreds of prisoners of the US War of Terror languish in prisons around the world, in Guantanamo and on the US mainland. Some have been there as long as 12 years, some have sentences that extend beyond the span of their life; many have never been charged with a crime and more than half the prisoners who remain in Guantanamo have had their original charges dropped or have served their full sentence, but are barred by US law from being repatriated to their homeland and therefore can not be released. Even the few prisoners in Guantanamo who are considered ‘high value’ are mostly charged with thought crimes, plans that were never carried out in any significant detail. In many cases, the leads that initially brought them to the attention of the FBI or CIA have proved to be inaccurate.
Amina Masood Janjua is a Pakistani woman whose husband was abducted from the streets of Rawalpindi by Pakistani President Musharraf’s thugs shortly after 9/11. Masood Janjua was an honest citizen going about his business, and his wife has been looking for him ever since. He wasn’t the only one picked up this way, but his wife Amina was the one who started an organization to advocate for the hundreds of men disappeared in Pakistan after 911. In the early days of the War on Terror, hundreds of men were pulled from the streets and countryside of Pakistan to feed the US government’s insatiable appetite for Terrorists. Some were sent directly to Guantanamo; some were moved here and there before being sent to Guantanamo; some were deposited more or less permanently in one of several prisons at the US base in Bagram, in a secret prison in Pakistan or somewhere else in Libya, Syria, Thailand elsewhere into a secret array of American prisons. Teenagers have been picked up on the Afghan border and sold to ‘the Americans’ as terrorists, who must have figured out it wasn’t true in some cases because 50 of them remain in the Bagram prison though after 5-10 years they have never been charged with a crime.
And then there are the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in Pakistan, subject to ongoing surveillance, missile strikes and bombings by U.S. Predator drones. The FATA is something like a combination of Pine Ridge Reservation with Gaza. Indigenous peoples who live there have, since the British Raj, been allowed to keep their tribal culture and their ‘sovereignty’ in exchange for giving up their rights as citizens of Pakistan. They are governed by a Federal Agent who makes final decisions on the distribution of social resources, food, medicine and guns, and who oversees the tribal justice system with the power to intervene at any time, pass judgement on any individual and determine a sentence. Currently, due to the ongoing violence that has spilled over from the Afghan war (Taliban on the ground and drone strikes from above), citizens of Pakistan from outside the region are not permitted to enter the FATA region, and those who live there cannot leave without passing through government checkpoints. Not surprisingly, they are generally apprehended by their fellow countrymen with fear and loathing, and pity.
One hundred and sixty six men remain in Guantanamo. There are a handful of so called ‘high value’ prisoners whose cases are deemed to be related to actual terrorist attacks. But all were severely tortured at secret prisons when first detained, and a number of them have cases based on crimes that were nothing more than loose talk, association with the wrong people and/or claims that are clearly contradicted by the evidence that has unfolded while they were in custody. Eighty Six of them have been cleared for release, but are retained in detention for political reasons. At least 28, but possibly over 100 of the prisoners are on a life threatening hunger strike. They are choosing death over spending the rest of their lives in torment. At this time, 11 are being force-fed. Even death is denied them. Their lawyers, who complained on their behalf, have been denied access to them. Non-military flights to Guantanamo have been canceled. The office created by Obama in the early days of his presidency to close Guantanamo has itself been closed, and new monies have been allocated to expand the Guantanamo Prison facilities.
In the US ‘homeland’, Muslims, including immigrants and African Americans from impoverished neighborhoods; people who are naive, ignorant, immature, along with recent immigrants whose cultural habits and political stances do not fit a jingoistic standard of normalcy and patriotism, are accused of thought crimes or manipulated into participating in fake crimes after being targeted for sting operations that resemble the cons used to part old people, the disabled or other potentially needy or naive people from their money, then incarcerated with lengthy sentences made possible by a so called ‘terrorism enhancement’ to whatever ‘crime’ they are alleged to have committed.
Men like Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Northern Iraq, have been targeted due to possible social contacts made in their home countries and imprisoned for long periods of time despite having committed no crime. Yassin’s name and phone number were found in a private phone book picked up in ‘terrorist hideout’ near his home town after it was bombed by American forces during the Iraq War. Could someone there have known him? Of course, this is a land of small villages where everyone is connected one way or the other. Like many college students, Yassin worked for a political organization which promised sovereignty for his Kurdish homeland, a popular stance in Kurdistan, particularly after the scorched earth policies of Saddam Hussein in the region. Yassin gave rides once or twice to a man who was later designated a ‘terrorist’ by the US government.
Meanwhile dozens of immigrants and poor African Americans, who constitute the majority of indigenous Muslims in this country, have been targeted, manipulated into committing or attempting to commit a crime, then imprisoned as terrorists. Men desperate or naive enough to take the provocateur’s bait, are conned and confused and recorded for the convenience of the courts by provocateurs who profit handsomely from their work. The provocateurs, often petty criminals, are bankrolled by the FBI, moved from job to job when they are successful and absolved of any prior or concurrent crimes they may commit. Not a bad deal for a sociopath with a criminal record and a taste for good living.
In one unusual case, a Pakistani National named Aafia Siddiqui, a woman who had lived in the US for more than 10 years during which she earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience (the physical underpinnings of learning), was abducted in Pakistan near her parents home, where she had been staying, and incarcerated somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, later released in the Afghan city of Ghazni, only to be immediately rearrested, was later convicted of a crime that she may or may not have committed in attempting to escape after the second arrest. I say ‘may or may not have committed’ because the testimony against her is not corroborated by a single iota of material evidence. The original charges against her, which date back to a time shortly preceding her arrest in Pakistan, seem to be based on the testimony of one or more high profile 9/11 suspects who may have met her at some point or may have been told her name by their interrogators, and the testimony of an abusive ex-husband.
Saturday, March 30th, was the anniversary of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s initial abduction. There is a lot of mystery around this event, and the American Government persists in denying they held her for the 5 years that she was missing. However, Aafia Siddiqui had her 3 young children with her at the time of their abduction. When the middle child, Miriam, who was 4 years old at the time of her abduction, was dropped off near her mother’s family home in Karachi shortly after the time of her trial, she spoke only American English. The older boy, 6 or 7 at the time of his abduction, was with her Dr. Siddiqui when she was arrested the 2nd time in Ghazni, but she did not appear to recognize him. He too is now living with his Grandmother and Aunt in Karachi. He has required special support to deal with with traumatic memories of years in prisons, and has needed surgeries to realign his hips, dislocated and misaligned due to long periods in restraints during a time of rapid growth. The baby, less than a few months old at the time of their disappearance in March 2003, has not been seen since.
The U.S. authorities adamantly deny having held Dr. Siddiqui prior to her arrest in Ghazni in 2008. However, they also contend that, after being shot and mortally wounded by U.S. soldiers (in self defense), she unleashed a verbal torrent off vulgar anti-American expletives in English, wherein the word “F*#!” appeared more than once. This, admittedly unseemly, behavior would seem very odd if she really had not been in the company of Americans for the previous 5 years. Had she been in hiding in a remote Baloch village with the womenfolk, or dealing daily with conservative Islamist clerics, plotting the ruin of the United States, a country where she had lived for most of her adult life, and where, if not a citizen, she was engaged in numerous good works and charitable projects, where, in fact, she is accused of wanting to convert as many people as possible to her beloved Islam, would she have the habit of expressing outrage in the common vernacular of the United States?
There were a number of psychological analyses prior to Dr. Siddiqui’s trial because of her paranoia and inability to relate appropriately to her surroundings. Initially, she was declared incompetent to stand trial but later, based on new testimony and the reversal of the state psychologist’s initial report the decision was set aside. The psychologist who changed his mind testified that, after he saw the government denial that they had ever held her, he came to the conclusion that she was a malingerer rather than a person suffering severe PTSD, as in his initial conclusion. Dr. Siddiqui’s family and her lawyers all firmly believe her story. Evidence, including the return of her daughter and and some memories that her son has, along with testimony by the Pakistani government official responsible for her initial abduction, has emerged to support her claims.
Dr. Siddiqui was convicted by a jury on all counts but without premeditation. And yet, the judge sentenced her with the ‘terrorism enhancement’ to 86 years, more than the future length of her life for crimes that would normally entail a 10-12 year sentence. The chain of accusations on which the terrorism enhancement was based were not clearly articulated in court as charges, and therefore could not be challenged. Dr. Siddiqui is currently incarcerated in Carswell Medical Center in Texas, a hospital prison with a record of patient abuse. Letters sent to her are returned. Calls are not received.
The prison says that she refuses all of her mail and her phone calls. Given her state of despair at the time of her conviction, it is possible this is true. However, it would seem questionable in light of the way the mental health issues were handled at her trial. A healthy person would not refuse all mail and phone calls. If she is psychologically disturbed enough to be doing that, then she should not have been deemed competent to stand trial at that time as she was not malingering. Even if she were disturbed at the time of her trial, a retreat from all outside contact would indicate a deterioration in her condition and an environment not conducive to the restoration of her mental health. I suppose a sentence in a mental hospital that lasts as long as twice your remaining lifespan would fit that description, but is it not a cruel and unusual punishment? And then again, maybe they are stretching the truth to hide a different kind of cruel and unusual treatment.
Nearly twelve years have passed since 9/11/01 when the US began building the myth of a fanatical gang of international terrorists targeting the United States with mayhem and murder. After seven years of fear and loathing, a new president came into office on a wave of hope. Yet, Guantanamo is still open for business and the remaining residents are farther than ever from release, as are most of the CIA Black Sites. Rendering of prisoners is rare, but the program still exists. U.S. Drone attacks in the FATA have increased exponentially, while only a handful of the ‘disappeared’ have been returned to their families. When Bagram is returned to the Afghans, the unindicted Pakistani youth will remain in the custody of their American jailers. New cases based on FBI sting operations are regularly heard in the Federal Courts resulting in convictions and unusually lengthy sentences, often in Communication Management Units where the prisoners are held in virtual solitary confinement at locations far removed from their families. The Obama White House has released formal justifications for executing American citizens without trial.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui remains in Carswell FMC where she has been joined by Lynne Stewart, a 73 year old America lawyer who has selflessly defended the poor and the disenfranchised and those who have been fodder for the FBI terrorist franchise throughout her career. Lynne Stewart, convicted of a technical legal violation in her defense of one of her clients, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. Currently, she is suffering from stage 4 cancer, but the authorities say she cannot have a ‘compassionate release’ for treatment. It will only be available when they are sure she is going to die within a few months. I guess it is an equal opportunity victory that at least 2 women have joined the thousands of men tortured and persecuted in this War of Terror.
But here in the land of democracy and freedom, where we preach about opportunity for all, where we righteously condemn other countries for unequal treatment of women, where we talk endlessly about freedom and justice, it’s time we take a look at what is really going on and who we really are. Perhaps then we will set aside ‘hope’ and start thinking about active change. Until then we are all prisoners of The War on Terror.
Judy Bello is active with the Upstate (NY) Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. She traveled to Pakistan with the CodePink Peace Delegation last Fall. The Coalition is planning, Resisting Drones, Global War and Empire, a weekend of networking, education and action in Syracuse, NY April 26-28. You can learn more about the weekend events at http://upstatedroneaction.org
They are essentially dead men who just happen to breathe. That is the grim assessment of the legal representative for the inmates in the American concentration camp, otherwise known as Guantanamo Bay.
More than 11 years after this penal colony was opened on the American-occupied territory of Cuba, there remain some 166 prisoners who live in a nightmarish world of indefinite detention.
Hundreds of others have been ground through the machine, spewed out like human waste. Denial of human freedom is torture; denial of any sense of when that torture ends adds a whole new barbarous dimension of cruelty.
American vanity likes to indulge in berating other countries for human rights violations: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are paraded in the American media as pariah states, accused of failing international legal standards. In the past, the Soviet Union and its system of gulags was a particular favourite feature for Americans to contrast their supposed freedoms. How the ‘high and mighty’ self-proclaimed moral titans now stand exposed as hypocrites, charlatans and low-life perverts.
Thanks to the suffering of prisoners at Guantanamo, the world is seeing some shocking home truths about the real nature of American government and its formerly grandiose pretensions. Without Guantanamo, the world may have been duped a little longer by the American art of deception. But not anymore. The American style of dictatorship has everything that the old Soviet system had, but with an added insidious trait – the American delusion of exceptionalism.
Think about it. In Guantanamo, they have been rendered from all over the world by their captors like so many wild animals, physically and mentally tortured, humiliated and defiled. Most of them are Muslim, coming from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where the US has been waging its permanent charade ‘War on Terror’ since 2001.
Such is the cruel vindictiveness of their captor country that these men’s only freedom – to read their holy Korans in the solitude of their cells – has been denied to them. More. Their sacred beliefs have been stomped on. Not only have their captors incarcerated their bodies; their tormentors want to hunt down their victims’ inner-most thoughts. This is taking human barbarity to scientific levels of depravity where the human spirit is sought out to be murdered.
Ninety percent of the Guantanamo hostages – a more appropriate description than ‘inmate’ – have never been charged with any offence. They are being held merely on the basis of suspicion by an American government that has lost all credibility and moral bearing in the eyes of the world.
For nearly 50 days now, 26 of the men at Guantanamo have been on a hunger strike. It is the only freedom left to these men. To refuse the most basic means of subsistence. That length of time without food is pushing the human body into a fatal condition. The muscles have been eaten away now by the body’s own metabolism to survive against deprivation; at this stage, the last vital organ of the brain becomes internally digested.
‘These men have figured out that probably the only way for them to go home – cleared or not – is in a wooden box,’ said their American-military appointed defence lawyer, Lt Col Barry Wingard, in a recent interview with Russia Today.
Wingard, who has been granted only limited access to consult with the prisoners said that he was shocked by the ‘animal cage’ conditions of the men when he last saw them three weeks ago. ‘They will never get a trial based upon the evidence that is against them,’ adds Wingard.
Let’s recap. Hundreds of men – in all probability innocent of suspected wrongdoing – are held for up to 11 years without charge, tortured and denied proper legal support – all perpetrated by the government of the US that proclaims to be the world’s standard bearer of democratic and human rights and international law. This is the same government that has overseen the invasion and illegal occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, murdering millions of innocents, in the name of establishing democracy and international law.
But don’t confuse. Guantanamo is not a vile contradiction of America’s lofty claims. It is in fact a microcosm of the reality of how truly barbaric the American government has become.
Five years ago, when Barack Obama was running for the US presidency, the closure of Guantanamo was a central promise. To the credit of the American people, they voted him into the White House in order to tear down this abomination of human rights and international law and all the associated torture that it represented under Bush and the neocons.
Into his second administration, Obama has reiterated that Guantanamo is here to stay. How is that for a brazen betrayal and snub to democratic demand of the people? Appropriately, Obama has outdone Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. The imperialist permanent war on the world is being stepped up and expanded to target Syria, Iran, China and Russia and whomever else dares to stand in the way of American hegemony. Obama’s wielding of secretive executive powers to execute any one, any time, any place in the world exceeds the fantasies of the Bush neocons.
The abomination that is Guantanamo is therefore an important moment of truth as to how far America has gone down the road to all-out fascism.
Ironically, it is men who have been deprived of everything even to the point of death who are exposing this powerful truth.
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In a gesture of solidarity with Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who are continuing their month-long hunger strike, activists across the world have launched a week-long fast. The campaign will also include protest rallies and vigils.
The action, organized by the Guantanamo prisoners support group Witness Against Torture (WAT), began on Sunday and is to last through March 30. Some activists plan to continue fasting every Friday until the prison is closed, the group says.
The fast will be accompanied by public gatherings to protest against the existence of Guantanamo prison and the condition of people held there.
“We will gather for action in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities domestically and internationally next week to denounce the barbaric practice of torture and indefinite detention and to demand justice for the men at Guantanamo,” WAT says.
The activists also released a list of 166 names of Gitmo detainees, calling on supporters to flood the prison with letters of solidarity and remind the management “that the world has not forgotten the hunger strikers.”
Human rights advocate Andy Worthington believes demonstrations like the recent one are crucial for changing the situation in Guantanamo, stating inactivity “would be a victory” for those whose aim is to keep the prison open.
“Those of us working to close Guantanamo are up against powerful forces of indifference or hostility to our cause, despite the obvious justice of our position. People should not – must not – be put off by this indifference or hostility,” Andy Worthington told RT.
WAT organized similar fasts of solidarity annually since 2010. The group itself was formed back in 2005 and has since been trying to make the US government close the notorious prison through vigils, marches, nonviolent direct action and other measures.
Lawyers of the detainees say more than a hundred of Guantanamo prisoners have been on a hunger strike since early February, with some putting their health at considerable risk. The protest was reportedly caused by mistreatment on the part of the guards, including searches, confiscation of personal items and desecration of Korans.
Guantanamo Bay management has been downplaying the scale of the protest, saying that it considers only a handful of detainees to be genuine hunger strikers.
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Despite the prisoners’ hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay being acknowledged by the US military, there has so far been little reaction from the international humanitarian organizations to the action, which enters its 42nd day on Tuesday.
The United Nations has yet to acknowledge or comment upon the Gitmo hunger strike. RT has reached out to UN human rights bodies in Geneva and officials have promised to respond to the inquiry with a comment by Tuesday afternoon.
The only international organization to respond to what’s going on in Guantanamo is the Red Cross, which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23. It acknowledged that a hunger strike was really taking place, but so far all the organization has done is release a statement saying that “The ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”
Military censorship makes it quite difficult to access any information about Gitmo prisoners. It was the attorneys for the detainees that first expressed urgency and grave concern over the life-threatening mass hunger strike that reportedly started in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on February 6.
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights 130 prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photos and mail and the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans.
Prison spokesman Navy Capt. Robert Durand, however, acknowledged only 21 inmates to be on hunger strike. He also denied all allegations of prisoners being mistreated.
Even if not for mistreatment and abuse, prisoners could have started the strike just to draw attention to their being kept in Guantanamo, with the US refusing to repatriate them, despite some being cleared for release.
“There are 166 people at Guantanamo. Of those there are probably 20 guys who are bad guys… like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The other people… more than half of them – 86 of them have been cleared at least for three years and some during the Bush administration – cleared as innocent people. And they are still there and they are frustrated,” says Thomas Wilner, a lawyer, who used to represent some of the Guantanamo detainees in court.
According to Durand, none of the inmates on hunger strike is in immediate health danger.
Lawyers for the prisoners believe otherwise. They have reported some of their clients had weight loss of up to or more than 20 pounds (8kg) and have been hospitalized. Medical experts say that by day 45, hunger strikers can experience potential blindness and partial hearing loss.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and habeas counsel have sent a letter to US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, urging him “to address this growing crisis at Guantánamo before another man dies at the prison, this time under his watch. The hunger strike should be a wake-up call for the Obama Administration, which cannot continue to ignore the human cost of Guantánamo and put off closing the prison any longer.”
Meanwhile, JTF-GTMO announced that flights to the island prison from South Florida will be terminated on April 5. The step is seen by the prisoners’ attorneys as an attempt by the Defense Department to limit access to their clients.
US military’s claim that a Yemeni inmate found dead in September at Guantanamo Prison camp had committed suicide by medication drug overdose has been discounted by American and Yemeni officials.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, one of the first men taken captive by American forces after their invasion of Afghanistan, have raised suspicions since the military announced over two months ago that a guard at the notorious prison and torture camp had found him “unconscious and unresponsive” in his cell, The New York Times reported Thursday.
While a US military medical examiner labeled Latif’s death as “suicide,” how he gained access to additional drugs is reportedly still under probe.
Yemeni officials have refused to accept the remains of the inmate until they get answers about the exact cause of his death. This is while a Pentagon official delivered an autopsy report to the Yemeni ambassador in Washington earlier this month, describing Latif’s death as ‘suicide,’ the daily adds, citing a report this week by the Web site, Truth-out.org.
However, Latif’s former lawyer, David Remes, expressed skepticism about how Latif could have saved his daily medications for an overdose without detection considering that he was under “intense scrutiny” by guards and prison cameras.
Remes further suggested that authorities at the military prison may have deliberately given Latif access to too much medication “hoping he would kill himself,” the report adds.
Moreover, Remes reiterated that shortly before Latif’s death, other Guantanamo detainees said guards had told Latif that they were taking him to a disciplinary cellblock, which he resisted. He was then placed in a specific cell which “he hated because of droning noise from an adjacent electric generator,” the report notes.
“Adnan (Latif) was a thorn in their sides,” Remes said. “The guards would ask other prisoners how to handle him. He refused to submit. He wouldn’t allow them to set the terms of his imprisonment. He was a constant problem.”
Latif, was seriously injured in an auto accident in his native Yemen and was in Afghanistan, seeking free or charity medical treatment when he was taken captive by US-led occupation forces.
He had been cleared for transfer back to his homeland before by both the Bush and Obama administrations; however he wasn’t sent home.
In 2010, a federal judge ordered Obama administration to free Latif, arguing that the evidence against him was too weak. However, an appeals court panel reversed that ruling in 2011.
According to the report, executive branch panels under the Bush and Obama administrations had repeatedly cleared the Yemeni inmate for repatriation, but he was still kept at Guantanamo “because both administrations were reluctant to send detainees to Yemen amid an Islamist insurgency.”
A recently-released Pentagon report admits to interrogating Guantanamo Bay prisoners after administering mind-altering treatments to them – often forcibly against their will – but stresses it was not done for the purposes of interrogation.
The report by the inspector general of the US Department of Defense obtained by truth-out.org under the Freedom of Information Act, found that some Gitmo inmates were questioned while receiving prescribed psychoactive treatments.
The Pentagon has tried to justify the facility staff’s actions, saying that “nowhere in the medical records did we find any evidence of mind-altering drugs being administered for the purpose of interrogation,” as the report states on page 13.
“The detainees were not given drugs as a means to facilitate interrogation,” insisted Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale.
But the report does admit that “certain detainees, diagnosed as having serious mental health conditions being treated with psychoactive medications on a continuing basis, were interrogated.”
The inspector general also notes that “numerous” inmates have complained of being medicated against their will, but adds that wardens have used treatments known as “chemical restraints” to quell the aggressive individuals.
“Some detainees were involuntarily medicated to help control serious mental illnesses,” says a former commander of the Joint Medical Group at Guantanamo.
The report further admits that drugs administered “could impair an individual’s ability to provide accurate information.”
The medication under question, known as Haldol, has been used for over 50 years, and is often administered in psychiatric wards. Several side effects including depression, suicidal behavior and heart attacks are known to exist.
The Pentagon spokesman has refused to comment about how often such substances are used at the detention center, where the US has locked up nearly 170 men, writes the Washington Post.
Being drugged-up changes nothing?
After reviewing the report, David Remes, an attorney of one of the detainees, sounded an alarm saying that there is a vast possibility that statements and evidence obtained from those using psychoactive medication cannot be used in order to justify charging detainees held at the base.
The revelations in the study have raised numerous concerns among human rights activists.
“The inspector general’s report confirms that detainees whose mental deterioration and suffering was so great as to lead to psychosis and attempts at self-harm were given anti-psychotic medication and subjected to further interrogation,” Leonard Rubenstein, a medical ethicist at Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, told truth-out.org.
However, some stipulate that evidence obtained through these methods would hold up in court.
Shayana Kadidal, from the Center for Constitutional Rights says that under the system set up by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, any statements detainees made during these interrogations would be presumed accurate “even if detainees took medication that could produce unreliable information.”
Kadidal added that “the burden ends up falling upon the detainee to prove what was said wasn’t accurate if they were challenging their detention in habeas corpus proceedings.”
Despite President Obama’s pledge to end torture, the brutalization of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo prison continues under his regime.
Guantanamo is where a thug squad called the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) tortures inmates while pointing their required video cameras at the floor to hide their beatings.
In illegal and cowardly assaults on tied-up inmates that violate the Geneva Conventions, five or more Pentagon IRF MP’s will spray Mace in a prisoner’s face and then gang-beat him. The MP’s are known to break bones, gouge eyes, squeeze testicles, inject disease, force the prisoner’s head into a toilet or bang it on a concrete floor, smear the prisoner with feces, douse him with noxious chemicals, urinate on him and even sodomize him. A prisoner may also be virtually buried alive in total darkness underground for as long as three weeks, during which he is denied adequate food and sleep. Prisoners have also been hog-tied in painful positions for hours on end. In short, Guantanamo’s prisoners have suffered tortures far worse than France’s notorious Devil’s Island.
The above facts about Guantanamo are according to distinguished investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill in an article published for “World View News Service.” He quotes Michael Ratner, president of the Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR) as saying: “They (the IRF) are the Black Shirts of Guantanamo. IRFs can’t be separated from torture. They are part of the brutalization of humans treated as less than human.” Adds Scott Horton, a leading expert on the U.S. military and constitutional law, “They (the IRF) were trained to brutally punish prisoners in a brief period of time, and ridiculous pretexts were taken to justify” the beatings. (One prisoner said he was beaten for feeding crumbs to some lizards.)
“I have seen detainees suffer serious injuries as a result of being IRF’ed,” said David Hicks, an Australian citizen held at Guantanamo. “I have seen detainees IRF’ed while they were praying or by refusing medication.”
In his book, “An Innocent Man in Guantanamo,” (Palgrave/macmillan), Murat Kurnaz, held there for five years even though it was clear to U.S. authorities he was innocent, writes, “Blows from the IRF team were the basic form of punishment at Camp X-Ray… beating us and then chaining our hands and feet, connecting those chains with a third one. You couldn’t move your arms, they were pressed to your body. Then they’d leave you sitting there like that and take away your blanket and the thin mattress. It could take days before they’d unshackle you… ” Perhaps the ultimate in sadism, Kurnaz recalls, “fathers had to watch as their sons were beaten, and vice versa.”
Kurnaz writes that when General Geoffrey Miller took over Guantanamo in 2003 the plight of the prisoners “dramatically worsened.” “The interrogations got more brutal, more frequent, and longer. The first order General Miller issued was to commence Operation Sandman, which meant we were moved to new cells every one or two hours. The general’s goal was to completely deprive us of sleep, and he achieved it.” Kurnaz said that if he dozed off an IRF guard would punch him in the face.
The CCR has called upon the Obama regime to immediately end the use of IRF teams at Guantanamo. One Guantanamo defense lawyer said that after Obama took office his clients reported “a ramping up in abuse.” Horton says, “detainees should be entitled to compensation for injuries they suffered,” reports Scahill.
“As Commander in Chief of United States Armed Forces under the terms of the United States Constitution, President Obama has an absolute obligation to terminate torture and war crimes committed by the IRFs on Gitmo,” says Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign. “Failure to do so renders him liable for these international crimes under international criminal law, U.S. domestic criminal law, and U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 on the Law of Land Warfare under the doctrine of Command Responsibility. The best way to do this would be to terminate the IRFs on Gitmo.” Boyle is author of “Tackling America’s Toughest Questions” (Clarity).
Scahill says that while Barack Obama, almost immediately upon taking office, issued an executive order saying he was going to close down Guantanamo within a year and that he was going to respect the Geneva Convention while his administration reviewed Guantanamo, the (IRF) force under Obama has continued to torture prisoners.
Sherwood Ross formerly worked as a reporter and columnist for major dailies and wire services. He currently heads a Miami, Florida-based public relations firm for worthy causes. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.